Hearing the news about Alice Munro’s Nobel win this morning sent many Canadians to their shelves. Munro is an author to read in the morning and the evening, whose work repays frequent visits and recitations years later, and whose voice returns when you least expect it, yes, like a friend from your youth:
When a young English professor taught us about Munro in 2002 he read us this passage from her 1990 story “Friend of My Youth.” Normally shy and quiet, he grew more and more animated as he went. When he came to the end he banged his fist on his desk and shrieked “and that is why Canadian literature consistently wins more prizes than any other national literature in the world!”
But we hadn’t won the big one—until now.*
Munro says she hopes her Nobel will bring more attention to Canadian writing, and maybe it will. Though literature is taught and marketed in national categories, I’m not always sure such divisions are meaningful for solitary readers. As Sasha Weiss wrote in The New Yorker today, Munro fans feel a curious ownership over her greatness. It’s true: Canadian or not, for her most enthusiastic readers, each fresh discovery of her brilliance whispers at some personal and nationless bit of themselves.
Besides the national thrill of this news, with Canadians still feeling chagrinned over the Gilmour episode, Munro’s Nobel win is being read in some quarters as more of a vote of confidence in writing by women than it should be. Gilmour’s literary sexism is still being dignified by being shouted down. The fact that only thirteen women have ever won the Nobel prize should be an embarrassment to the organization, not a reason to see Munro’s award as new “proof” of the quality of writing by women.
In fact, although she’s justly famous for her many lenses on the lives of girls and women, Alice Munro’s massive talent has about as much to do with her gender as it does with her nationality.
Nevertheless, as a nation, we Canadians are chuffed. As we send our heartfelt congrats Munro’s way, we can only hope along with her that this glow of international recognition will help other Canadian writers find the readers they deserve.
* As Mark Medley points out in the National Post,